In a number of Southeast Asian countries, the idea of progress is situated between western standards of modernization and the ability to uphold one’s cultural integrity. While globalization has paved the way for countries to take advantage of the economic opportunities that are inherent in free trade, the damaging consequences are greater and are more felt than the benefits would have accounted for. This reality process presents a dichotomized profile for most Southeast Asian countries as each struggle to keep up with the demands of the developed world, endangering its national identity for the furtherance of economic progress.
According to So, most developing countries have no other choice but to pen themselves up to globalization as it is the only way for them to improve the state of their economies (So, 1999). Numerous books and scholarly articles have been written in order to promote the advantages of modernization via the Western way, but what most globalization advocates fail to address is the cultural incompatibilities that the modernization model of liberal democracy has to offer. Hines & Landes both agreed that the front of the global market economy caters to more losers than winners since that is the logic of capitalism (Hines, 2000 & Landes, 1999).
The notion that capitalism may not be beneficial for the destitute majority often leads to political determinism. It is often assumed that increased market integration holds greater promise for liberal democracy. This may not be true for most Southeast Asian countries, particularly Malaysia as its need for the Islamization of the globalization process illustrates the gap regarding free trade and liberal democracy (He & Kymlicka, 2005). The effect of globalization has caused some serious setbacks for most Southeast Asian countries, particularly in the development of the rural communities, where a large part of the poor population is located.
Local markets have a hard time competing with big corporations since capital is limited, and quality production is hampered by the lack of modernized technologies in which their governments could not provide (Pearson & Payaslian, 1999). Landes has stated in his book that weak governance is a major contributor to the lagging development of the Southeast Asian nations as it was generally observed that governments fail to properly assess the needs and wants of the society, rendering a vicious cycle of corruption and injustices (Landes, 1999).
According to Kingsbury, Southeast Asian nations perceive public governance as an efficient application of law through authoritative means. This perception failed to stress the necessity of government subordination as mandated under the concept of the rule of law. Framed under the traditional notion of governance, governments in these countries look up to their laws to promote and enhance further the authority and power of those who are at the upper crust of society, against ordinary constituencies (Kingsbury, 2005).
The existence of laws in society is generally understood; therefore it does not only confine or limit the power of the State, but it should also enhance the power of the State to govern. In other words, common understanding among Southeast Asian countries should be that governance is attributed more accurately as a rule by law rather than a rule of law (Kingsbury, 2005). One of the pillars to modernity is the observance of the rule of law in a society. It is widely imperative that the rule of law be followed as it entails to achieve sustainable economic development.
The rule of law constitutes the proper enforcement of laws, the observance of checks and balances in the branches of government and the public accountability of government officials. Part of this is the protection of human rights and civil liberties, to which many Southeast Asian governments have failed in uphold. It is important to identify the elements that would garner success to the rule of law (Chee, 1999). Carother’s article on the Rule of Law Abroad: The Problem of Knowledge gave a brief overview on the civilities of the rule of law in the attainment of good governance.
The first step should be to have an informed populace as this place the citizens at the core of development. Local actors and resources play important roles in establishing a sound government and involving the people in the political processes would be able to delegate major issues in an effective manner (Carothers, 2003). The second step is having a strong judiciary, which is the primary indicator of good governance since its participation in the acts of checks and balances provides a guarantee that governmental power will not be consolidated or abused by the political units (Carothers, 2003).
The third one is the responsible enforcement of fair public prosecutors. This step demands that police functions be properly represented by the lower level of the judiciary system so that investigation procedures would not be biased and would have to abide to the precepts of the constitution (Carothers, 2003). The fourth one is the support of a conscientious human rights body.
National human rights commissions are vital to the monitoring of the government’s observance to the rule of law since the actualities of rights that have been handed over by its citizens to the state can be measured through the effective implementation of laws made for its people. For instance, the establishment of human rights institutions/organizations in the Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippine Commission of Human Rights (PCHR) has placed the constitutional rights of citizens into perspective, offering them protection against maltreatment or abuses from foreign and local entities (Carothers, 2003).
The last one is an encompassing concern towards global community and intercession, which mainly centers on the awareness of a state’s role in the global scheme of things. This elucidates the challenges and difficulties confronting the realities of globalization and its effect on the local communities (Carothers, 2003). Landes has discussed the significance of a country’s stand on the rule of law, emphasizing that a country’s constitution is a sacred pact of trust between the government and its people. Any act that transgresses the grounds to which this pact is bounded, infringes the trust accorded to by its people (Landes, 1999).
Views from So and Chong stresses that one of the reasons why most Southeast Asian countries encounter difficulties in adjusting to the encroachment of globalization is the weak implementation of good governance (So, 1999 & Chong, 2007). In Laos, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) has been known to curb away oppositions and dissident, prohibiting their citizens to express their opinions. The State Party has been noted to frequently meddle into the daily affairs of its citizens, subtly ensuring control over the political, economic and social course of the country.
Rampant forms of torturing and harsh physical punishments of prisoners have been recorded by human rights organizations where continued practices of arbitrary arrest, detention and surveillance by police and other law enforcement officers indicate the violent steak of its judicial processes.. The Government closely controls the print and local televised media and prohibits any expressions of dissident with the political regime, threatening to arrest those who challenged its authority (Caorthers, 2003).
With regard to Malaysia, its government has acknowledged that it restricts certain political and civil rights in order to maintain social harmony and political stability. Such policies have carried out abuses of human rights, including detention of persons without trial, limits on impartiality and independence of the judiciary, and restrictions on freedom of the press, association, assembly and religion (Chee, 1999). Autocratic military junta continues to operate with an iron-fist grip on power in Myanmar.
According to the 2007 report of the Amnesty International, recorded human rights abuses worsened as the military government continues to deny its citizens of their rights, including the right to challenge their government through democratic elections. The military junta has grown arrogantly hostile to all forms of political opposition and dissent. Extra-judicial killings, rape and forcible relocation of persons, use forced labor, and the employment of child soldiers have become part of the norm for most citizens and are continuously perpetuated by security forces (Carothers, 2003).
In Cambodia, the government’s poor response on the onslaught of human rights abuses has put the country in turmoil since the Khmer Rouge tragedy. The transparency record of the country is also discouraging as recent reports by the Transparency International group has slated it to be one of the most corrupt countries in Southeast Asia. A number of allegations on political killings has proliferated the socio-political scene of the country as reports on the involvement of security forces provoke unremitting chaos to the already troubled government (Chee, 1999 & Lawson, 2005).
Indonesia’s socio-economic status seemed to have slightly improved over the years, though serious problems remain with regard to its judicial system and the lack of transparency that renders corruption plagues the government as a whole (Carothers, 2003). Thailand’s main concern revolves around the underground businesses that proliferates the social scene such as drug trafficking and the exploitation of women and children. Violations to human rights by the security apparatus have apparently increased in recent years and the involvement of the military has halted any attempt to expose its corruption.
The election fraud committed by the administration party of then Prime Minister Thaksin has produced doubt in most of its citizens in the way the government handles the affairs of the country (Lawson, 2005). In Vietnam, the Communist Part still continues to rule and control most of the powers that pertains to the state, enforcing restrictions on speech, freedom of religion, the press and the creation of assemblies and associations. Several democracy activists have voiced out their concerns, only to be drowned out by the government’s intolerance of political dissent (Kingsbury et al. 2008).
The Philippines has been riddled with corruption from the public sectors down to the private companies that controls most of the states’ assets. The lack of transparency in government audits and fiscal budgets has put the incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the spotlight. Impeachment proceedings have been incessantly presented to the Congress for the investigation of corruption allegations yet the tight grasp that the government has on its constituencies has quelled such matters even before it began.
The prevalent division between the Government and oppositional parties has lagged progress in the country as most of them are preoccupied with producing the latest corruption scandal which leverages their popularity to the masses (Kingsbury et al. , 2008). Singapore seems to be the odd one out among the Southeast Asian states though that doesn’t mean that they aren’t hiding any skeletons in the closet. The on-going detention of oppositionist Chia Thye Poh exhibits bigotry to the country’s judicial procedures and this extends to their dealings with foreign individuals residing in their country (Carothers, 2003).
Good and effective governance is crucial to developing states as it aids in decreasing poverty. Success of any effort toward the effective implementation of governing bodies relies on a stable moral ground, which promotes transparency and a strong connection between the leader and its people. Every government’s leadership should be enhanced with a strong commitment to the rule of law (Carothers, 2003). However, it should be stressed that the actualization of the rule of law does not and cannot exist in the mid-air.
It has to be rooted in the ground where it is conducive for it to grow and survive. Justice and rule of law are not about form but of substance. Focusing solely on form would not be able to provide results in the long-term as it would only graze upon the surface and not at the grassroots level (Chee, 1999). Fetters to most development strategies in Southeast Asian countries are neither technical nor financial. The problems lie in both the political and human dimensions of comprehending the rule of law.
The implementation of good governance strategies will only succeed if it corrects the behaviors that most political leaders commit. The enhancement of respect for the rule of law cannot thrive in leaderships besieged with selfish interests. No rule of law ever succeeds under the rule of one individual or a privileged few (So, 19990). It is a waste of time and effort for most countries if institutions are used merely to serve the interest of the privileged few.
Unless people strongly oppose such a system of governance, in which oppositions emerge from political unrest, the promised benefits of good governance under the roots of modernization will never be attained. It is, therefore, important that part of establishing a comprehensive rule of law must also pay attention to social, economic and political reforms of post-conflict societies. Profound changes that go beyond palliative measures would be required if the Southeast Asian region are to succeed in this endeavor.